Postal rate hikes are not the only increase in expenditures publishers are facing–there are also paper, production and printing costs to deal with. Following the tips listed here will put you well on your way to a more cost-efficient campaign–and higher ROI. Sound good? 

Try these money saving suggestions to help minimize the cost of your next direct mail campaign.

1. Gang-Run Printing
If you are printing multiple versions of a four-color brochure, running more than one version on the same press sheet can save you a lot of money. When you put the brochure out for a quote, be as thorough and descriptive as possible, making sure to list the number, quantity and changes per version. This will enable your printer to plan out the job and minimize the number of plate changes and make-readies that you incur. With a typical make-ready costing $800 and an average plate costing $175, you can see how the savings can quickly add up.

2. Using a Fifth Color
If you’ve designed a brochure that includes copy changes reversing out of a four-color background (a headline, for example), consider changing that background to a PMS fifth color. By doing this, each version change will only affect one plate instead of all four plates. This will more than offset the increase in cost of changing to a five-color brochure. For example, if you want to print a million brochures with 10 different versions, instead of using a complete four-color change on one side, consider printing five-colors over five-colors with a one-color change on one side. The savings with the five-color version would be approximately $4,400.

3. Piggyback on a Larger Print Run
If you want to test a format that is very expensive to produce in small test quantities, find out if one of your vendors is running that particular format in a large quantity for another client and then, with that client’s permission, run your test piece as a plate change off their larger run. By doing this your printer can split the savings between the two clients.

4. Minor Size Changes Equal Major Cost Savings
It always pays to talk to your vendors about alternative size possibilities in order to achieve a better fit on press. Particularly in web printing, you are dealing with fixed cutoff dimensions, combined with variable width dimensions. As a result, a slight tweaking one way or another can have a dramatic effect on press efficiency. In one case, a publisher designed a brochure at 16″ x 27″, but the printer recommended changing the size to 17″ x 25-7/8″. In doing so, the printer was able to achieve a perfect fit on a half-web press, instead of running sheet-fed, which reduced the publisher’s cost by $3,500 on a quantity of 60,000 brochures.

5. Your Printer’s House Sheet
On a typical printing job, paper can easily account for 50 percent of the total cost. Even a minor reduction in the cost of paper can produce big benefits. One way to accomplish this is to ask your printers to give you a price on the paper you are requesting, as well as a comparable alternative among their house sheets. The primary benefit is that since the printer buys this paper in very large quantities, they can offer it to you at a very attractive price. Another benefit is that the printer already has the paper on hand, thereby eliminating special order lead time and possible minimum order requirements. If you are printing one million 11″ x 17″ brochures, using your printer’s house sheet could save you as much as $1,200 over a comparable paper.

6. Personalization at a Lower Cost
If you are producing a direct-mail piece that includes the personalization of an address block and some additional copy, you should explore various production methods to determine which is the most cost-effective process that will give you the quality and amount of personalization you need. Consider producing a double postcard as a cut sheet/ink-jet product instead of a continuous form/laser product. Cut sheet refers to printing on a sheet-fed or web press, where the paper is cut into individual sheets and then fed through an inkjet machine to personalize it. Continuous form refers to printing roll-to-roll on a web press and then feeding the rolls of preprinted paper through high-speed laser equipment to personalize the entire form. Particularly in smaller quantities, the cut sheet/ink-jet approach can save money without compromising quality. On the other hand, if you’re using an 8-1/2″ x 11″ letter with full variable imaging, continuous/laser would most likely be the best process. Double postcards are commonly used to generate subscriptions. Half the postcard is used to sell, and the other half acts as a subscription reply card. It’s an easy piece to produce at a low cost. Printers note it’s an ideal piece for magazine acquisition mailings.

7. Maximize Postal Discounts
The USPS’s MERLIN program–an acronym for Mail Evaluation Readability Lookup Instrument–is a tool that is used to assist with the acceptance of business mail. The MERLIN program helps mailers qualify for automation discounts and meet acceptance requirements for bulk mailings. The last phone call any mailer wants to receive is one from their mailhouse informing them that their mail piece has failed the MERLIN test. This will result in a loss of your automation discount and cost you approximately seven cents per piece. For example, a run of 200,000 5-1/2″ x 8-1/2″ postcards printed on seven-point card stock, instead of nine-point stock, would fail MERLIN and result in a surcharge of $14,000. For a MERLIN compatibility checklist, please visit:

—Source: Circulation Management (